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The ultimate guide to Tom Waits: A mammoth 24-hour complete playlist

“My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane.” – Tom Waits

If you’re unfamiliar with Tom Waits’ iconic deep and distinctive voice, we’ve stumbled across a playlist that will make you an expert in one day. In a career that has blended numerous genres, Waits started work predominantly as a jazz musician during the 1970s and has experimented over the years and has added his own special influence in the genres of blues, rock and roll and, at times, punk.

When Waits arrived on the scene, he did so with a bundle of great songs under his arm and a head full of dreams. Once his debut record Closing Time arrived, it did so with little fanfare. However, by the time 1985’s Rain Dogs was released, Waits had changed the public perception and, after the album entered the radio waves, he had America in the palm of his hand. Things could have looked rough for Waits, but like every other moment in his career, he refused to budge.

Instead, Waits forged his own path, his own persona, and his own goal. With that, he quickly became the anti-hero of the American songwriting scene. Often referred to as a crooner, Waits is what you’d get if you made Frank Sinatra hitchhike between shows in Las Vegas and New York with only a bottle of whisky for comfort. “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things,” Waits once said, and it’s a quote that sums up his creative approach perfectly. “The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering,” he added.

With 16 studio albums, three live albums, seven compilation albums, 24 singles and two soundtracks spanning across five decades, Waits has been prolifically consistent in his unrelenting output. “For a songwriter, you don’t really go to songwriting school; you learn by listening to tunes,” Waits once said. “And you try to understand them and take them apart and see what they’re made of, and wonder if you can make one, too.”

He added: “Songs really are like a form of time travel because they really have moved forward in a bubble. Everyone who’s connected with it, the studio’s gone, the musicians are gone, and the only thing that’s left is this recording,”

Now, sit back, relax and zone out for 24 hours and step back in time with Tom Waits… if you can handle it.